Springing forward

Are we there yet?Here we are with crazy weather for the first official day of spring. Stormy drifting snow with icy road conditions made for a tense and treacherous drive to the airport. Never before have I been so grateful and excited to leave behind a Canadian winter. So here we are: my dream has finally arrived, after months of a long harsh cold haul that had me itching to escape to warmer climes. We’re finally on our way to Spain! Don’t get me wrong. A well earned tour through various yoga studios in the Toronto area with our yogaFLIGHT flair has me grateful to have had the time that we did connecting with an ever expanding community. Yet I am thrilled to be springing forward on this marvellous equinox evening to the warmth of Europe.

It’s been a long time it seems that I’ve played tourist abroad. Spain will be an incredible adventure that hasn’t any set direction or expectation, apart from milder sunnier weather :).

Lufthansa rocks!Landing in Frankfurt after a wonderful Lufthansa flight has me on top of the world, although I feel physically drained and exhausted from little sleep over the past week. Several all nighters this past week took their toll as we crossed the Atlantic; I crashed deeply and soundly for much of the flight. I’d highly recommend the exceptional friendliness and attentive courteousness of the Lufthansa staff. The german culture with the meticulous emphasis on detail has me happy to recommend and fly with this airline anytime!

Meeting with our friend Mic at the airport has me grateful for world travelling friends who go out of their way in being hospitable. I’m constantly reminded by the generosity and lovely spirit of my friends in this lifetime. How lucky am I to be living the dream life that I am?! This trek into the European unknown has me excited about sharing it with my husband and best friend.

What excites you about travel and springing forward into life? What has you most grateful about journeying into the unknown?

A Texan Farewell

The desire for adventure and travel has seemingly always been within me, and Airstream living is a perfect match for me, for us. I feel most alive when travelling, discovering new places, different foods and more often than not , new friendships and communities. The nature of travel is forward motion … changing locations, and often time zones, at an alarming pace (compared to the somewhat ‘sedentary’ lifestyle of a 9-5 + mortgage living). This is its greatest challenge and its greatest strength, paradoxically. The challenges of saying goodbye to friends whom we make a great connection with can be somewhat difficult. The sentimentalist in me makes it never easy, to be sure. But then again, why say ‘goodbye’ … for me, its another way of saying “I may never see you again”; farewell on the other hand offers room for future potential. This is where the beauty of Facebook and other social networking sites come into play … maintaining the ‘facetime’ connection over the interweb. What’s especially wonderful and comforting is knowing that we are always welcome back. An extended family awaits us here in Texas. Not only do we depart with a giant smile and plenty of hugs, we have plenty of wondrous memories to care us through and onwards to our next destination!

So I bid ‘Adios Amigos’ to all our Floridian / Belizean / Texan friends as we head north. Canada calls and I’m really looking forward to visiting with my family and friends! Looks like we’ll need to put the fleece sheets back on :).

Love to y’all 🙂 Maybe see you next winter??!

Winter hits Houston Texas

Houston was immobilized with an ice storm last night. Freezing rain hammered the city, but not an ounce of snow was to be seen. Seems the weather moved further north overnight and the snow sent Dallas scrambling for cover (hope they manage to clear it all up for Sunday’s Superbowl game!). However, the cold snap remained and a thin coating of ice caked every visible surface. Again, the city was shut down … few know how to drive in icy conditions and the city is not equipped with de-icing resources. I think its a smart idea to stay inside, at our friend Stacey and Don’s home, where its toasty warm, dry and safe (lucky to have had this as an alternative home for Texas’ coldest week of the season). Loving the fact that I could get my morning yoga practice in without freezing! 🙂

A good day to play with the puppies, dye hair and go shopping! Once most of the ice had melted off the roads, we shoppe — after Feisty dyed her hair platinum blond, blonde, blonder. The stores were quiet, and much was achieved in anticipation of our Belize adventure, just over a week away. I bought myself a new pair of hardcore walking shoes (which happens to be my first pair of North Face footwear — aka Gortex hiking day boots). I’m not certain yet as to whether to take them to Belize or not; we may only need beach footwear and suitable shoes for skydiving / jumping into the ocean. Also, we bought a couple of headlamps … most handy for our trip as well, but also for when we’re traveling on the road in our Airstream and are in need a handy LED flashlight that leaves us hands-free. Necessary purchases. Glad to get that out of the way. Next up, packing for the trip!

New Orleans Adventures

Arising early in the morning to catch photographic trails of the rising sun is, in my books, well worth the efforts. With last nights sunset, I couldn’t help but think that today’s sunrise would be just as magical on digital ‘film’. Disappointed, I was not! Beyond the manicured short stretch of beach near the casino lay a fenced off area that hid the remnants of previous storms and strewn out garbage. Shells of all shapes and sizes littered the sand as did residual garbage washed or cast ashore … plastic and glass bottles, old tires, plastic bags, PVC piping encrusted with barnacles, weathered rope, a tattered blanket, an old fan blade and metal shards of pipe et al.

With 45 minutes to explore the area around the casino, we chose to tour the St. Michael Parish Catholic Church, otherwise known as the Fisherman’s Church. In my opinion, this Church is the most beautiful and inspiring architectural masterpiece in a cathedral with such incredible stained glass. Reflections of grandeur indeed. “St. Michael’s has served the people of Biloxi’s Point since it was established as a mission in 1907. Ravaged by the two most powerful hurricanes to ever hit the Gulf of Mexico, Camille in August of 1969, and Katrina in August of 2005, St. Michael Church has stood 200 mile per hour winds and a 28 foot tidal surge.” Today this unique cylindrical church with it’s clam-like shell roof still stands, celebrating Biloxi’s once thriving fishing industry (which post-Katrina is now pretty much non-existent) whilst also symbolizing the strength, resiliency, dedication, faithfulness and struggle of this parish’s devout Catholic families. With the storms came devastation to the Church’s structure. The bottom two panels of stained glass were wiped out with Katrina’s 30-foot storm surge that washed through the bottom third of the round church, and only in the last year have they been replaced, on a pulley system, which allows for the windows to be raised if another storm surge were to come through and knock out the windows. A volunteer worker from Ohio was telling me that the force of the tsunami busted up the pews and sucked them out. The pews disappeared … there was no sign of them whatsoever. The restoration of St. Michael Catholic Church in East Biloxi is nearly complete, from the repair of its 36 columns of distinctive scalloped roof to the replacement of the bottom portion of the Church’s stained glass windows. The stained glass panels carry a recurring theme: that of the sea, depicting both men and women gathering their catch in nets.

With New Orleans being only an 85 mile drive away from Biloxi, we packed up quick and made route for our next destination. New Orleans |ˈôrlinz; ôrˈlēnz|:a city and port in southeastern Louisiana, on the Mississippi River; pop. 484,674. Founded by the French in 1718, it was named after the Duc d’Orléans, regent of France. It is known for its annual Mardi Gras celebrations and for its association with the development of blues and jazz.

Check-in time for the French Quarter RV Resort was 12 noon, and we wanted to make the most of our available time touring the city. With the success we had in cycling around Savannah Georgia and discovering the heart of the city with limited daylight hours, we wanted to experience New Orleans in the same way. So after setting up shop in our beautifully groomed RV slot in the French Quarter, we hopped on our bicycles and headed for the action and music. Within 6 blocks, we discovered a plethora of unique and colourful street performers …. musicians, statuesque live mannequins (literally, human statues standing perfectly still, mid-motion beside a bucket for tips of any sort), singers and dancers, magicians, psychics, palm and tarot card readers. Horse drawn carriages, souvenir shops, ‘gentlemen’ bars, genre-wide music clubs and ‘3 for 1’ discos lined the streets of downtown New Orleans, vying for the tourist dollars which seemingly help to keep this city afloat after Hurricane Katrina. A sense of quiet despondency seemingly filled the musical air at times, while at other moments, a sense of hope and strength flourished with the colour and vibrancy of this legendary city. Alcohol and music is the main theme of this 24-7 party town: 3 for 1 drink specials abound alongside frozen daiquiris dispensary bars — think 7-11 alcoholic slushy dispensers of a gazillion different flavours. About 15 years ago, I was lucky enough to experience the New Orleans Jazz Festival with a crew of skydiving friends. It was an amazing cultural experience, but very different from what I imagine Mardi Gras to be — if it’s anything like the experience of Bourbon Street :). I can’t imagine the craziness of Mardi Gras after experiencing how important alcohol is in creating the dynamism of the ‘Big Easy’.

Trying to absorb as much as possible, we weaved and surged through the streets (so many one way roadways), stopping to listen, watch and photograph. I was in heaven with the canvas before me. Impossible to recreate such beauty and dynamic energy, so I snapped away as if this were the last moment to live on earth. Fire stoked my peddle strokes as we skirted the Garden District, circling through Audubon Park and wobbling back through the narrow busy pot-holed streets of  Magazine Street. Darkness had fallen quickly, and without our headlights or reflective vests, we opted to head back to the RV Resort before exploring the nightly music scene. It was on Charles Street that we literally bumped in to a marching band (numbering maybe 50 musicians?) in full regalia. What was most surprising was the sound and their sole sudden appearance, seemingly with no apparent reason. They were their own parade, with numerous followers gathering suit to line the streets of the ‘Vieux Carré’. The hip hop / big band music magnified off the narrow streets of the French Quarter like a ping-pong ball on steroids, and my earbuds felt alive with the giant reverberation of their colourful performance. A different sensation of aliveness fell true and centre. The experience was earth-shaking in its intensity and happiness.

After relieving ourselves of some belongings, trading for the requisite safety garb, we headed towards Frenchmen Street — this is the ‘it’ scene for locals and music supreme. We wandered from club to club, catching the luxury of guaranteed quality music of a varietal assortment of genres. We stayed for a while at the ‘Spotted Cat Music Club’ savouring the earthy and light jazzy blues tones of Miss Sophie Lee. It so happens that a large Canadian contingency packed the bar as we enjoyed a few drinks while absorbing the scene and musical greatness. Truly lovely.

Before heading home, we made one last loop down the length of Bourbon Street, captivated by the alcohol frenzied happiness which bounced off the vibrating fluorescent lights. New Orleans is one happy cat city on the surface when the tourists are out in full force.

P.S. For those curious about staying at the French Quarter RV Resort during Mardi Gras, these are the prices for 2011 (and they are usually booked almost up to a year in advance for this time period):

  • 2 night minimum stay: 2 days = $199 per day; 3 days = $179 per day; 4 days = $159 per day; 5 days = $139 per day

Old Reliable

The morning waters reflected like mirrors in the stillness of the warm Florida sunshine. Birds of every colour and calling grazed for jumping fish and insects, whilst my husband attempted to photograph the essence of stillness. It made for an incredible canvas, and at times like these I wish we had 2 SLRs. But with 1 SLR and another point and shoot, I was satisfied to capture what I could from a different angle and in my own style. After a lovely breakfast, we started the days journey slowly meandering around the Island. At this point, Patrick noticed a sudden increase in the engine temperature. When he went to check it out, the radiator neck snapped off the engine cowling. Uh oh. That can’t be good, were my thoughts. After tossing around ideas about what we could do, Patrick called his friend Roger for some suggestions. No concrete suggestions came his way (apart from JB Weld, which he didn’t have onboard), so with a still strong cellphone signal and battery charge, he ended up calling Towboat US (similar to AAA, but for boats) and asking for their tow assistance. Within 45 minutes, a little tugboat had reached us and we were hooked up to Captain Orley’s ride, ready to make the 6-9 hour adventure north.

The day had us passing through 9 suspension bridges, admiring the scenery along the whole waterway. If the spans were to be navigated on one’s own accord, it would mean passing through either at designated times or with an advance call to the bridge & tower master. With having a towboat Captain at the helm, we were ushered through each ‘checkpoint’ readily, quick like stealth bunnies. Giant houses / properties, expensive boats and marina toys lined the shoals, whilst a vast variety of exotic birds spent their time sunning their outstretched wings wherever they could find a perch, today being another mild and sunny blue skied day.  Because we were pretty much on auto-pilot for the duration, the boys were able to enjoy morning, afternoon and evening beverages, entertaining themselves throughout the trip. I pretty much spent my whole day either writing postcards or photographing the journey. I had such fuN!.

Our arrival that night wasn’t until well past dark, and the marina that we docked at was locked up, meaning we could drop off the boat. But this also meant that we would need external transport to get us back to the Sarasota Marina. Lucky for us, Captain Orley didn’t mind being of service in taxiing us to our port of call. What a long wonderful day (not so great for Patrick’s pocketbook – – engine repairs could be in the $1000’s). Luckily Patrick’s entire tow journey was covered with his premium insurance. Phew!

Up the Creek without a Dinghy

The time was right. One day sooner or later might mean that the possibility of moving Patrick’s sailboat from Fort Myers to Sarasota would be nullified. There is no waiting for the weather. I’ve learned that lesson all too well with both flying and skydiving. Spontaneity and flexibility is key when time critical objectives revolve around Mother Nature’s schedule. And as most know, she has a tendency to surprise even the most seasoned of weather champions without a moments notice.

Our trek up the Intercoastal Waterway would be a 2 days journey, leading us along a canal-like structure that in its entirety travels a full 3,000 miles (that’s 4,800 km for us Canadian folk) along the Atlantic and Gulf coasts of the US (as noted in Wikipedia), whereby “some lengths consist of natural inlets, salt-water rivers, bays, and sounds; others are artificial canals. The Waterway provides a navigable route along its length without many of the hazards of travel on the open sea.” Patrick toyed with the idea of sailing out to the Gulf, heading north and thereby bypassing the 9 bridges which our 48 foot tall span would need to navigate through (i.e. under). But with little to no wind and a deadline to meet, we didn’t want to rely solely on engine power, and if the weather changed in a heartbeat, the Gulf of Mexico would be too rough to travel on.

The only way that I can describe the whole day trip was one of luxury. The wind seduced us as we weaved our way north towards Punta Blanca Island (off of Pine Island South), the sun soft and soothing (unless of course you didn’t wear sunscreen!), birds delighting us moment after moment and the sporadic dolphins entertaining us between stories and tropical drinks. Of course, I was loving the photographer’s canvas … nature is the quintessential model for beauty and stillness in the motion of life. I opted to keep on the telephoto lens for the distant shots. But at times, I wish I had a broader more versatile lens for those spontaneous closeups.

Anchoring in Pelican Bay for the night was a treat in itself, especially as we were the sole occupants of the Bay — a rare treat in itself, says Patrick. We were a 100 feet row away from the Island to give us a chance to gather our sea legs and stretch them out a bit. When Patrick cast anchor, he never noticed our dinghy release from the side mooring cleat, and like a slow-moving comedy, we watched the dinghy breeze on by with a mind of its own. Realizing what was happening, slaDE launched for the boat hook and managed to snag the dinghy. No need to swim for it, yeah! After a good chuckle, we rowed over the island for a bit of fun and exploration. The birds and their nests seemingly were the only occupants. I was a bit paranoid about the potential for crocodiles emerging. But luckily, nothing to hamper our adventures from progressing.

A full moon and still waters rocked us lovingly through the evening, filled with laughter and stories. Patrick and Ann prepared wonderful meals ahead of time for us, so all we had to do was sit back, sip our cocktail of choice and chill.

Cheezy and Raw

A rainy day … great for adventures in shopping and dining with our friend Minna! Our friends, the Calandras, headed home today, so we thought we’d honour Tommy with a sendoff photo at Wal-Mart. The ‘Cheese’, as it’s lovingly displayed by my silly husband :). The true adventure began however at my favourite salad bar restaurant ‘Ruby Tuesdays’. Since discovering the diversity and plenitude of their salad bar extravaganza, I am all too happy to return here for a meal that fulfills my needs of salad bar perfection (or close to it). Unfortunately, the meal wasn’t as savoury for my husband … the only similarity between mine and his? Both were ‘raw’. Sadly, slaDE~ ordered a well-done chicken burger. What he received was a crude chunk of pinkness, that before looking, slaDE~ had chomped in to with hungry voraciousness. The look on his face paled in pink comparison, and the waiter was summoned rapidly. Addresses were swapped and photos taken. A phone call from headquarters was promised to ‘check-in’ on hubby’s well-being. And a free dinner was offered in exchange for slaDE~s unsavoury experience. Of course, steak and lobster were on the menu along with soup, desert and frothy drinks. Unfortunately, they never covered my nor Minna’s tab. What do you think. Should we have pushed for them to wallow in their mistake and cover our expenses as well?

I was extremely happy to see that slaDE~ didn’t get ill that evening or the next day. A phone call was NOT received however. Such is the customer care of Ruby Tuesdays. What a shame!

Cutting It Close

slaDE and I went in to Tampa to pick up our friend Boz from the airport, after which we had dinner with our Alumapalooza friends. What an interesting experience that was, driving through the airport parking garage. On entrance, the clearance bar claimed that the garage was only available to vehicles that were 6’8″ or lower. slaDE and I have never measured the height of our truck, but apparently we fit just under the specified measurement – barely (as slaDE surmises whilst driving slowly and hanging 3/4’s of his body out the window). It was kind of freaky driving around … it looked as if we would scrape the roof at every moment, and I prayed that we wouldn’t hit a bump of any sort that would have us cringing at the sounds of roof paint kissing concrete.

A good lesson in height management, especially when towing a trailer behind us that might navigate poorly under certain covered bridges across America. No need to worry about parking garage height though. We’d be nuts trying to tow and park a trailer through any closed parking area. 🙂 Walmart parking lots are a good spot for us, and a whole lot less nerve-wracking!

Peace and Kindness in Savannah, Georgia

What a glorious day to photograph an extravagantly gallant and charming city! So much beauty, so much history and a huge number of squares to explore. And tour we did. I find that the ultimate self-guided opportunities exist when one has bicycles. No parking fees to worry about, areas larger than walkable can be covered and exercise aplenty is available at the level one so desires. Luckily, we acquired free bicycles when last home that fit snugly in to our truck bed (the dump is an amazing resource, truly — what one person throws out is another man’s treasure). Freedom was our middle name! So after quickly following one of the local tour trolleys on their route of preference, we scouted out the areas to explore, and discovered free parking at Forsyth Park. This park was built in 1858 and has become an iconic symbol of the city of Savannah, with it’s glorious porcelain-like fountain (which happened to be frozen almost solid in all its glory). Here began our first introduction to Savannah’s version of panhandlers.

One of the distinctive natural settings carried over from the 18th and 19th century is the city’s distinctive grid plan of 22 park squares dotted throughout the downtown quarter. “Most of Savannah’s squares are named in honor or in memory of a person, persons or historical event, and many contain monuments, markers, memorials, statues, plaques, and other tributes.”

Along the route we discovered the Colonial Park Cemetery, which was used to bury the dead from 1750 to 1853, becoming a city park in 1896. There are quite a few famous cemeteries here in Savannah, most notably the Bonaventure Cemetery from John Berendt’s book “Midnight in the Garden of Good & Evil”. Unfortunately, most were beyond the possible area for us to cycle to and visit today.

As we wove our way through the cobblestone streets, we stumbled across the Downtown River Street. This area is a shopping mecca for the tourists to shop and dine amidst restored 19th century cotton warehouses. Appropriately, we chose The Cotton Exchange to dine for lunch. Here we delved in to a scrumptious crab soup and a mixed grill tilapia pasta entree, both for us to split — so rich that sharing our delectable sumptuous treat satiated us until our return home for dinner. From our window berth, we had the chance to watch the ships, ferries, barges and tour boats roll in and out along River Street as we dined inside this former cotton warehouse from Savannah’s early days. It seemed rather quiet today on this most notably cold but blue-skied day. We were told that frigid days like today were rare indeed.

Oh how I love to explore the tourist meccas in the off-season. However, witnessing the many vendors weaving their palm fronds in to pieces of art (rose bouquets adorned with ribbons or berry garlands), struggling to raise a few dollars here and there, was touching and heartbreaking as many seemed either homeless or unemployed (clothes in tatters, appearance dishevelled and meekly dressed for such cold extremes). Without a bag or backpack to carry any souvenirs or acquisitions, we could only stop to complement the artists on their skilled handiwork and offer a kind word.

Lining the river is the architecturally beautiful Talmadge Memorial Bridge, a stunning cable-stayed bridge (similar to San Francisco’s Golden Gate Bridge, except made with cement pylons) over the Savannah River. The Port of Savannah is the largest single terminal container port on the U.S. eastern seaboard; this bridge flanks the banks of downtown Savannah, Georgia, and its neighbouring state of South Carolina.

One of the beauties of travel is the discovery of new and wonderful people. Today we met Bob and Bogart, crusaders of kindness and peace in a “Smithsonian-worthy” 1990 Chevy school bus, whom are travelling to campuses across the country to promote kindness.His message: “We are trying to offer inspiration to those wanting to better themselves by leading a lifetime of constantly spreading kindness to others.”

Please visit them at their website One Million Acts Of Kindness and support them in their venture, in whatever form that may take. Bob reminds me of John Lennon and his quest for peace: “Give Peace a Chance”. If only we all couldn’t be a lot more like Bob, spreading a message of peace and love, kindness and happiness, where “we are all one country, one world, one people” [sic Yoko Ono].

As the light faded, the temperatures dropped. It was time to find ourselves a hot drink to coddle! On a corner in Savannah’s historic district, not too far from the bench on which Forrest Gump awaited his bus, sits the Gryphon Tea Room. What a glorious treasure to find, a reprieve from the cold! This beautiful building was very reminiscent of the Harry Potter Gryffindor common room (from Hogwarts), both in name and in character.

Inside this tea room, which once happened to be an apothecary, the low fabric ceiling is surrounded by a stained glass drop-down platform with classic dark wood trim, and shelves displaying antique plates and glasses with the original stained glass windows and tiffany lamps adding class and ambiance. From what I’ve been told, it’s a lovely and friendly place for breakfast, tea, coffee, dessert, lunch and high tea.

Before the day escaped us fully, we cycled over to the Roman Catholic Cathedral of St. John the Baptist. The pipe organ was impressive in size, the twin spires towering and acoustically amazing, the stained glass windows breathtaking and the fresh balsam wreaths aromatically sensual!

Once again, we were happy to call the Camping World parking lot our home for yet another chilly evening where the temperatures dipped below zero. Brrrrrrrrr!

A long long day of driving.

At 7am, a 2 hour and 20 minutes on the ferry crossing from Ocracoke to Cedar Island was ideal time to sleep and / or catch up on reading or writing. The Ocracoke Lighthouse made for a picturesque backdrop as we made our way through the choppy and rough passage. High winds whipped our tiny little boat in sporadic rolls and churn, and with each rhythmic lurch, the trailer (although chalked for the journey) sent the truck jolting back and forth along the deck, causing my startled nauseous nerves to stumble at times. slaDE~ was calming however and in the lull between chop, I continued to catch up on writing my unblogged thoughts and perusing through many a photo for said entries. My mind and body would not settle down enough to nap for the duration.

An unsuspecting result of the turbulent trip were the streaks of sea salt spray, hammering both truck and trailer. This had us searching for auto wash bays where our 55 foot long could squeeze in for a healthy wash and rinse, after we made our way down the coast of the mainland. Salt will do nasty things to uncoated aluminum and thereby needs to be removed as soon as possible. Although our trailer has a clearcoat finish on it, that 20 year old coating is oxidizing and is in need of a good polish / recoat. Salt is the last thing we wanted on both vehicles (kind of like the corrosive road salt we experience with Canadian winters — hence the oiling of most vehicles to prevent corrosion and rust). With a bit of luck, we managed to find a wash bay that served our purposes. After lengthy efforts at squeezing in to this tight space, we were dismayed by the faulty washer — no soap, just water. We reasoned that this would have to do for now as the other bays were either impossible to fit in to or exit from.

In total this day, we travelled over 15 hours, including our ferry crossing. Needless to say, we were more than ready to hunker down for the night at a Camping World just outside of Savannah Georgia which had reserved an electric spot for several nights in our name. One of the benefits of memberships: complimentary overnight parking at some of the nationwide stores, where available! A sweet deal indeed.